Crash Course for College Freshmen

All around the country, newly-minted high school graduates are heading off to college. They’ll be taking a lot of things with them, but we know that financial literacy is not one of them.

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If I could spend just two hours with these awesome students, this is what I would attempt to cram into their heads, then pray that it penetrates their hearts:

A BUDGET IS YOUR FRIEND. That means you 1) have a written plan for how you are going to spend your money 2) you use that written plan like you would a road map, consulting it often and 3) you use a site like or a pencil and paper to record how you spend every nickel. has a monthly budget worksheet to help you estimate your costs and keep expenses under control.

GET A FREE CHECKING ACCOUNT. It’s not easy these days to find free checking accounts with no strings attached—no monthly fee, no minimum balance requirement and no minimum deposit. But many banks such as US Bank, do offer free student accounts that fit this criteria.  Explore banking options in the city where you will be attending school or find out if the bank or credit union that your parents already use offers free student accounts and has a branch near the college campus.

Why I Appreci-Hate My Credit Card

Erma Bombeck, the late humorist, summed up family relationships when she spoke of the ties that bind … and gag! That just makes me laugh because it is such a colorful word picture. Maybe you’ve thought this from time to time: Family—can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without ‘em!


The same thing could be said about credit cards in these very strange times in which we live. Many people can’t live with them but can’t live without them, either.

Who could have foreseen the time when the very thing that has all of the ability to ruin so many lives (I do know a thing or two about that) is the very thing that we need in this digital age.

The relationship I have with my credit card is appreciation on the one extreme and hatred on the other. I have an “appreci-hate” relationship with it. Yes, I said hate. It is a strong word.

How to Pay Your Bills Without A Paycheck

The most important thing you can do to make your personal economy strong is to have an umbrella—a Contingency Fund, with at least enough money to pay all of your bills without a paycheck, for three to six months.


Call it $10,000. Weekly, try to save 10 percent of your paycheck. It may sound like a lot, so if you can’t do 10, start with 5 percent or even 1 percent and build up.

Deposit the money automatically into your Contingency Fund; you won’t miss what you don’t see in the first place. Okay, you’ll miss it for the first few months, but soon you really will not miss it.

Until you have a fully-funded Contingency Fund, approach this with scorched-earth determination. No spending on anything that is not necessary or legally obligating until you reach goal.

Just Maybe the Best Homemade Holiday Gift Ever

It happens every year about this time. I begin scrambling for the perfect Christmas gift idea for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. My criteria is that the gift has to be homemade and easily mass produced. It needs to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. It must be something that will survive the mail, and above all it needs to be affordable.

As of a week ago, I’d pretty much narrowed this year’s gift to one of the most decadent condiments on earth—Bacon Jam. I needed to make a test run to determine if the stuff is as outrageously delicious as is being reported and if it’s reasonable in terms of time and money to make it in mass quantities.

It’s been three days since I finished up the test run and the results are unquestionable: This stuff is crazy delicious. Like candy but more savory. The amount of Bacon Jam that fits into a half-pint (8 oz.) glass jar is quite generous because a little Bacon Jam goes a long way!

I have run into a challenge that could make the gift of Bacon Jam impossible for all but my local friends. I’ll let you know about that together with a possible solution for the problem. But first let me show exactly how to make Bacon Jam together with what I’ve decided is the perfect recipe.

What Retailers Don’t Want You to Know About Tap Water

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past decade or so, the general population of this country formed a belief that bottled water is better than tap water—safer and healthier, too. It is not difficult to figure out where this idea originated. It was with bottled water suppliers. It was pretty ingenious to convince otherwise normal people to pay between 240 and 10,000 times more to purchase water in a bottle than to get it from the supply we’re already paying for that comes out of the taps in our homes.



These days a 16-ounce bottle of “spring” water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8.00 a gallon–twice the cost of milk, and about par with bottled soft drinks. Home delivery of water in those great big, heavy bottles is less per gallon but still around $40 a month, according to online averages.

The average household cost for town water in the U.S. is $.66 per cubic meter, which is 265 gallons, or 4,240 eight-ounce glasses of water—enough to last the average person 530 days (consuming eight 8-ounce glasses per day). Another way to price it: Sixty-two 8-ounce glasses of water cost about 1 cent.

How to Get More of Your Favorite Fast Food for Less (Even Free)

In these days of rising food prices it’s fun to keep a bevy of money-saving tips and tricks up your sleeve. You won’t need a coupon a code or even a private word with the manager on duty to take advantage of these little-known hacks—all perfectly legal, morally ethical, too. As for the quality, nutritional value and taste for what follows? That’s where you’re on your own.



As fast food goes, it’s hard to beat Chipotle Mexican Grill. The food is fresh and quite tasty. Now boasting 1,142 locations throughout the U.S. and one (so far) in Canada, Chipotle is, in the opinion of your humble columnist, as good as it gets. Here are a couple of ways to make it even better.

Nachos. It’s not on the menu, but it’s easy to get nachos at Chipotle. Just order a burrito bowl and then ask if you can get chips instead of rice at the bottom. No extra charge.

Double-wrap. If you want a sturdier burrito, ask for two tortilla shells when you give your burrito order. Fans of this method say it keeps the burrito from bursting, which can be a problem with a well-packed Chipotle burrito. No additional charge.

How to Rescue Fabric and Clothes from the Stench of Mothballs

I love fabric and fine textiles of all kinds, but mostly I love cotton goods—cotton sheets, cotton quilts. You might say I am a collector, but only in the best sense of the word. My friends know me as a recovering fabricholic. That’s why I was particularly drawn to a letter that hit my inbox recently. When I read the sender’s dilemma involved fabric, I was on it.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that had been stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks, Lucille


Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here’s what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are petroleum-based and toxic to both people and pets.

How to Live the Life You Love on Your Current Income

I’ll never forget the time I asked one of my young piano students what he wanted for Christmas. It was a generic question, a pleasantry. I wasn’t looking for make, model, and serial number, but that’s what I got. He whipped out a 60-page list from his book bag. I gulped, checked to see if this child was serious (he was), and quickly proceeded with his music lesson.

Somehow I think that most of us have a bit of that kid in us. We want it all. And every bank and credit card company out there is affirming the notion and willing to make it happen.

In time, however, we reach the maximum level of satisfaction. And the more we attempt to increase that level, the more difficult it becomes to retain a sense of fulfillment. More becomes less as our feelings of satisfaction diminish.

By the looks of some of our closets and garages, we’ve been doing a pretty good job of trying to get it all. But how much of it satisfies? What portion of what we have is actually contributing to the quality of our lives?